Dawn Umstot '84 Computer Science Major

Dawn Umstot '84 Computer Science Major

"I oversee technical support for a medium-sized government organization. Responsibilities include IT Governance, IT Service Desk, Desktop Support, Enterprise Client Support, Server and Storage Support and Network Support."

Information Technology Manager

Dawn Umstot '84 Computer Science Major

Life as an IT Manager
Career path

CES: What are your duties and responsibilities as an Information Technology Operations Manager for Pierce County?

DU: I oversee technical support for a medium-sized government organization. Our IT Operations team of 60 supports 4,000 computer users and almost 6,000 computers/servers. Responsibilities include IT Governance, IT Service Desk, Desktop Support, Enterprise Client Support, Server and Storage Support and Network Support.

My duties include mission/vision/goal setting, technical strategy decision making, operational oversight of the groups that support the organization’s use of technology, supervision, policy making and budgeting/financial management of an $11 million budget.

CES: What do you most enjoy about your work? Least enjoy?

DU: I most enjoy creating a rewarding, fun environment for staff to work in, mentoring staff and solving problems collaboratively. 

I least enjoy time spent building new processes needed to support new technology. It’s always fun to test and deploy new technology, but without vetted, dependable processes—which usually are seen as bureaucratic—new technology becomes problematic and expensive to support.

CES: What would most surprise students to learn about the organizational culture?

DU: The government agency I work for is full of amazingly talented, hard-working leaders and individuals dedicated to public service. Yes there are lazy employees in every organization, but government gets a bad rap. We never "lean on our shovels." We work hard, we have fun at work, we support each other in every way, and we provide awesome services for the public. 

In particular, I work hard to foster an environment where backstabbing does not exist. Time and time again my staff report how different our team operates compared to other organizations they have worked at, and how much they truly enjoy working in a supportive environment where we all succeed together. 

CES: How did early experiences influence your career development?

DU: Working at the Bon (now Macy’s) part time all through school gave me a great exposure to customer service which I believe is key to being successful in most jobs. I treat everyone—my boss, my colleagues, my clients, the public—as my customers. It makes a huge difference in how people view you, and what you can achieve.

CES: What was your first job after college?

DU: One of my business professors at Puget Sound recommended me for an opening I landed in IT management in a Healthcare organization.  I was immediately thrust into supervision and responsibility for a medical client tracking and billing computer system. This was a huge new challenge for me, but I thrived in meeting the challenge. Those first 2-1/2 years at this job shaped my readiness for overseeing larger groups of people and taking on more responsibilities.

CES: How did your time in that position prepare you for future career pursuits?

DU: It helped build my experience in supervision. Having three staff report to me was manageable. Their work was well defined with limited decision making. I don’t think I would have been as successful in future jobs—where I supervised IT professional staff who worked very independently on much more complex projects—without this introduction to the human psyche in the workplace. 

I also experienced a major system failure at my first job which helped me build emergency management skills and the importance of good response mechanisms.

Lastly, my communication skills grew immensely. Interactions with others as a professional in the workplace is much different than situations you were used to, so you learn on the job what works and what needs to be communicated differently.

CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path? Were there pivotal moments?

DU: I took my first computer class during my freshman year at Puget Sound. Computers were pretty new to the regular world in 1980 when I took this programming class. The logic used to program appealed to the mathematician in me and hooked me right away. 

A pivotal moment for me came when I learned in a Puget Sound Artificial Intelligence class during my sophomore year that I was not cut out to be a programmer by trade. I solved a problem with 16 pages of code compared to the whiz kids in the class who solved it in a ½ page of code.  So, I decided to combine my interest in business leadership with computer science. I graduated with a BS in Computer Science/Business with a minor in Math.

CES: You've interviewed hundreds of people over the years. What advice do you have regarding the application process?

DU: Applicants who don’t finish school or who change jobs too often are always at a disadvantage because I wonder about their ability to stay the course.

When turning in an application, make it look professional and have someone else who is thorough review your package. I will rarely interview anyone, regardless of skills, with a poor application package. This includes grammatical errors, short answers that look like you couldn’t be bothered, incomplete answers and thoughts, and sloppiness.

The same idea applies to how you look and behave during the interview process. I see this as an applicant’s best foot forward. Come dressed professionally and be courteous. Applicants in casual clothes, tennis shoes, messy hair, late for the interview, rude to the receptionist, etc. have little chance to get a job offer from me. 

Read up on the company and ask intelligent questions at the end of the interview that show you want to work for them enough to have done your homework. Don’t ask “do I get a parking spot?” or “how much vacation do I get” because it comes across that you don’t care about the organization you are applying for—it’s just money in your pocket. 

Write a personal thank you note to the interview panel.

CES: How can recent graduates overcome a lack of professional experience?

DU: That’s tough, especially in this job market where experienced workers are competing with you for that job. Here is where your contacts come in.

Take the time to talk to your professors throughout your time at Puget Sound. Be a hard worker who gets good grades, has a great work ethic, participates in class, and supports your fellow students. Basically, get noticed and build your network of contacts. These will come in handy not only for learning of job openings but as references when you apply.

Also, find internships or volunteer in ways that build your skills in your area of interest. 

CES: Do you have any tips or resources for students looking for entry-level positions in this field?

DU: For IT jobs, there are opportunities to get experience. Volunteer to be the web programmer or content manager for groups you are part of. Buy and maximize your use of technology.

Learn how to use all the popular social networking sites. Companies need to get wired in to these networks to sell their products or services; they are seeking the new generation’s viewpoint and insight. If you have a pulse on this world, emphasize this value when you are applying for jobs.